Samsung today showed us four intriguing versions of its flagship Galaxy S 4 smart phone that are designed to appeal to niche markets. The new models include the Zoom, the first smart phone camera with optical zoom, along with the 6.3-inch-screened Mega for users torn between a tablet and a smart phone. Also announced: the water-submersible Active and the palm-friendly Mini. We tried out these models briefly at Samsung's headquarters, and here's what we found:
These mutant Galaxies don't all have the same hardware or capabilities of the flagship Galaxy S 4. But all run Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) and have IR blasters and software for TV control and most of the Galaxy S4's NFC-enabled wireless sharing capabilities.
Galaxy S 4 Zoom. This is the only smart phone we've seen that has a 10x optical zoom. That's a huge plus, but it also makes the phone considerably thicker than any on the market since the early 2000s. It also has a higher-megapixel (16 versus 13 on the original S4) and more camera features than its flagship cousin, as CR camera expert Terry Sullivan covers in his in-depth report on the Zoom.
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Galaxy S 4 Active. This model is IP67-certified to be water- and dust-resistant, including its 5-inch LED display. (It's otherwise no more rugged than any phone.) Samsung says the phone, which feels a tad thicker than the flagship Galaxy S 4, can stay submerged in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. We placed it in a jar of water for about 45 minutes and found that the screen readily responded to touch as soon as we pulled it out. In Aqua Mode, you can use the volume buttons to snap a picture or start and pause a video. One thing you can't do under water: switch between camera and video modes. The camera on the Active is 8 megapixels.
Galaxy S 4 Mega. With its 6.3-inch display, the Samsung Galaxy S 4 Mega easily has the mother of all smart-phone screens, yet it's surprisingly comfortable to hold. It's aimed at consumers who are torn between buying a smart phone or a tablet. Although it's the largest screen of any phone, the Mega's display specs are rather meek: 720 x 1280 pixels, or 233 pixels per inch. Nevertheless, the screen looked gorgeous in our preview, and the giant Li-Ion 3200 mAh battery should provide lots of play time. The camera has only 8 megapixels. And the Mega lacks the Galaxy Note's S Pen, though you can see previews of e-mails, calendar appointments, and other items by hovering your finger above them. It also has a split-screen view.
Galaxy S 4 Mini. Samsung's most humble entry is designed for people who demand a phone small enough to facilitate one-handed operation. According to the specs, it should. The phone packs its decent-sized 4.3-inch LCD into a palm-friendly case that measures 4.91 inches x 2.41 inches x 0.35 inches. The phone's Super AMOLED screen, despite being the smallest in the Galaxy S 4 family, offers a decent 540 x 960 pixels of resolution (256 pixels per inch). As it did with the Mega and Active, Samsung trimmed camera resolution to 8 megapixels. When it debuts in the U.S. market, I expect the Mini to carry a price tag of a $100 or less with a two-year contract.
Availability is sketchy, except for the water-friendly Galaxy S 4 Active, which is immediately available from AT&T for $200 with a two-year contract. The other three are expected sometime before the holiday season.
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